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Home >Opinion >Columns >Five books of 2020 that deserve to be on reading lists

As I usually do in my year-end column, this one is about the five books I loved reading this year and highly recommend to people who have not read them yet. My reasons for selecting these books are simple: they are brimful of surprising information and analysis, or they embody ideas that expanded my horizons and gave me both delicious and unpleasant food for thought. Coincidentally, two of these books are written by men who were or are associated with Mint. So, here goes my list, in no particular order:

A New Idea of India: Individual Rights in a Civilisational State (Westland, 384 pages) by Rajiv Mantri and Harsh Madhusudan. The two occasional contributors to Mint have written what can only be described as a manifesto. This deeply researched book recognizes what India essentially is: not just a nation-state, but a civilizational state, and rips through the hypocrisies that have characterized post-Independence India, from a vote-bank-hungry secularism to statist economic planning. It records an intellectual contest underway between those who are trying to build a new India—one that achieves economic growth with social change and expands individual freedom—and those who are invested in the antithesis, going to the extent of declaring that India must not become a superpower. This is an important read for anyone interested in India’s future.

The Indian Conservative: A History of Indian Right-Wing Thought (Juggernaut, 280 pages) by Jaithirth Rao. Better known as Jerry Rao, the author provides a history of rightist thought in the country that is stunning in its erudition. With a vast cast of characters, from Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and Gopal Krishna Gokhale to Dadabhai Naoroji, E.V. Ramaswamy Naicker and Guru Dutt, Rao looks at Indian conservatism in five areas: economic, political, cultural, social and aesthetics and education. Tracing the itihasa of Indian conservative thought right from the Shanti Parva in the Mahabharata, Rao calls for a commitment to “the preservation of our intellectual legacy that is touched by the sacred, …and to turn to its timeless wisdom for guidance, both as individuals and as a nation". One may not agree with all that the author says, but still be dazzled.

Sixteen Stormy Days: The Story of the First Amendment to the Constitution of India (Penguin, 288 pages) by Tripurdaman Singh. In June 1951, within 18 months of India becoming a republic, Jawaharlal Nehru rammed through our first constitutional amendment. Faced with a judiciary vigorously upholding civil liberties and a fiercely independent press, he wrought an amendment that curbed freedom of speech, enabled caste-based reservation, circumscribed the right to property, and invented a special schedule of laws immune to judicial challenge, something the authors of our Constitution could hardly have envisaged. This amendment also opened the floodgates to endless tweaks that have helped our governments undermine democracy. This is where it all started. And in the hands of Tripurdaman Singh, this is history written as thriller, as it chronicles the rot that set in so early.

Azim Premji: The Man Beyond the Billions (HarperBusiness, 248 pages) by Sundeep Khanna and Varun Sood. Indian business biographies are usually hagiographies. But former Mint consulting editor Khanna and national editor Sood wear no rose-tinted glasses while writing the story of Azim Premji, who is arguably India’s most unusual billionaire. It’s the fascinating tale of a man who had to cut short his education in the US upon the passing of his father and take charge of his family’s vegetable oils business, then moved into computer hardware, created a software giant, was listed as the wealthiest man in India for some time, and has given away $21 billion to set up the country’s largest philanthropic foundation. Yet his apparent obsession with a simple life has often verged on the bizarre, to the extent that Premji has worried about how much toilet paper is being consumed in his companies, and once visited an antique shop wearing a false moustache, fearing that the shop owner would quote higher prices if he recognized him. Rich with many such never-heard-before anecdotes, the book celebrates Premji’s business acumen while detailing his quirks and failures. This is what a business biography should be.

Hidden Hand: Exposing How the Chinese Communist Party is Reshaping the World (OneWorld, 432 pages) by Clive Hamilton and Mareike Ohlberg. This is quite simply one of the most important books written on how China has been covertly subverting the democratic world and pursuing its agenda of global dominance. This is not military power; it aims at controlling the discourse through media, so-called opinion leaders, think-tanks and so on. The two China scholars have given us a profoundly chilling book that, with 100 pages of footnotes from authentic sources, describes how China has over the years been quietly influencing Western politics, media, culture and high finance. To cite just one example, Beijing apparently has at least two former US secretaries of state, one former Treasury secretary and a former Australian PM on its payroll. It wields tremendous power over the big players on Wall Street, and has infiltrated Western academia to an alarming extent. Consider this in the context of Joe Biden about to enter the White House with his son Hunter’s apparently dubious Chinese connections. Read this book and be scared. Very scared.

Sandipan Deb is a former editor of ‘Financial Express’, and founder-editor of ‘Open’ and ‘Swarajya’ magazines

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